(aka Something Worth Fighting For - Part One)
Events cast shadows before them, but the huger shadows creep over us unseen. When some great circumstance, hovering somewhere in the future, is a catastrophe of incalculable consequence, you may not see the signs in the small happenings that go before. Much did, however. Vaguely.
In retrospect, I think that the third season of Robin Hood has been my least favorite - although even then it's still bloody good, RH has very high standards. The trouble is, of course, that it's incredibly hamstrung by the need to provide thirteen episodes of generic merry men medieval mayhem rather than building on its own awesomeness. If you start looking, it's panifully obvious to see the methods used to try and pull the show back to its generic baseline. Look at Tuck - a character with no past and barely any character, with only Harewood's charisma to disguise he's a walking plot device whose sole motivation is to get everyone acting like it's the usual rob-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor shtick. He turns up in Total Eclipse and spends it trying to restore the status quo. He and Kate's presence is just there to pad up the numbers, effectively and we've never really got to see an "ordinary day" with this version of the gang, unlike the days of Djaq and Will. How do they put up with Mr Holier Than Now and Stroppy Hormonal Time Bomb Girl? I've no idea, we've only seen thirty seconds of them in downtime and most of that was Much having his heart broken. Repeatedly.
Season Three really does feel like two seasons hastily crammed into one at the last minute realizing that Young Jonas quits next week (and, of course, has to be shown getting on with his life, coz it won't be a tragedy otherwise, will it?). I mean, look at Bad Blood. And boggle. They have to get Gizzy and Robin on the same side so they... get some random nutter to beat them up, chain them together, tell them they're brothers and play nice. In any other show, the sheer UNSUBTLETY of it would blow your brains out your nose. Had this show had time to breathe, it might have done a bit better. The Sheriff-of-the-Week business would work as background to the series (like Marion and Gizzy's engagement), but instead becomes raison d'tre as we get a series of Vasey-substitutes that just make us pine for old Gap Tooth Allan all the more. Allan, John and Tuck have barely had two scenes to themselves throughout the series, and how many times have they done the "months pass" between episodes? A lot.
And so here we are. The penultimate episode (just out in time to compliment the season finale of Paul McGann's 2009 season which the BBC has graciously allowed you to download in the timeslot where DT would normally be sobbing at the loss of his latest girl, but don't worry everyone, PMG and Lucie will return in the traditional Christmas 09 special... but not the Headhunter. Coz she, like the monkey what fell out of the tree, is dead! Pity really as she was rather good this season. Oh well.)
On with the apocalypse...
On the Great North Road, things are very bluntly calm-before-the-storm. Kate's flirting like mad with Robin, in fact, compared to how he and Marion courted, they're practically humping each other in public, which is probably why Much is avoiding them. Gizzy's also hanging around, quite clearly because he hasn't got anything better to do with himself bar be Will's replacement as Mild-Mannered-Super-Strong-Bezerker-And-Eye-Candy-With-Shockingly-Little-Dialogue. The gang are doing what they always do - set up an ambush. This time it's a messenger with a message from Sheriff Izzy: King Richard has pulled out of Jerusalem and returned to England - and Izzy has a handy army of 300 extras ready to help Prince John with that old Shah Mat plan of his. No sooner does everyone realize the sheer Logopolis-level awesome epicness of the oncoming events when Little John arrives with terrible news:
Those 300 are all the male extras from Clom and Nettlestone (hah! karma payback there, people) and Izzy's recruitment drive is heading straight for Loxley!
Meanwhile, Just Archer (remember him? No? Don't blame you) has arrived at Nottingham and trying to woo Izzy herself with his Jerry Springer like revelations about her incredibly messed up family. Archer, however, makes the crucial and fundamental mistake of assuming his newfound sister is not completely and utterly insane. And considering Izzy's gone to extra special effort to bug out her unblinking eyes, Tom Baker style, he really ought to see this coming, and is soon chained up and lead away for immediate execution. Still, Izzy's strength is that she's nuts, not necessarily efficiency.
Back at Loxley, the Merry Men have managed to defeat Izzy's second-in-command-of-the-week, a badass Samuel L Jackson impersonator, and get the men of the village to safety although all the food and supplies are not so lucky (mind you, considering the 'rape and pillage' tax reforms by Vasey, you'd think the locals would be used to such mindless looting by now and put the good stuff somewhere safe...). Tuck thinks Robin's charity has made the locals weak spineless dogs unable to fight for themselves, which is a bit hypocritical from the "inspire the people to help themselves" poster boy.
Izzy is in dire straights - and I'm not talking the band. Without her extra hundred men, PJ will have her hanged, and she decides to come up with a plan to regain her unwilling conscript army PLUS destroy Robin Hood utterly; a plan so devious, intricate and out of left field it would baffle Steven Moffat, Carnell and Baldrick. This is a scheme worthy of comparison with only ONE individual...
SIR ALISTAIR MILES!
You think I'm overhyping things here? Well, brace yourself for Izzy-Crazy?-Yes-She-Is's plan.
1: Kidnap Kate's revolting, hideous and abusive mother
2: Have a nice girly chat with said mother about some jewelry
3: Freak mother out by being crazy stalker batshit nutter ranting Robin Hood really loves her
4: Gives mother aforementioned jewelry to plant on Robin and make it look like he and Izzy are an item
5: Tells mother to give a not-at-all-suspicious unexpected intervention with Kate about her new boyfriend cheating on her
6: Steps 1-5 somehow cause the entire destruction of Robin's band of merry men and makes them return the villagers for Izzy to turn into an army
This plan really is a world beater, as arguably ANYONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD would have more chance of being listened to by Kate that her beloved is cheating on her. I fancy Chris Lilly would make a more compelling case than the one person Kate rightly distrusts and despises. But I suppose the fact isn't that Izzy's brain-damaged scheme will work, but that Kate's mother (Rebecca, but she has yet to justify herself even HAVING a name) will betray her entire village, daughter and childhood hero to save her own wrinkled skin from the oncoming CGI-assisted armageddon.
But, fortunately for the Bitch in Black, Gizzy happens to be part of the gang and pretty much the only person who can spot the jewelry as belonging to Izzy - if he hadn't identified it, her entire plan would have failed. Who says her brother never helps her out, huh? The trouble is, no one realizes it fell out of Robin's pocket thanks to Kate's mum's awful sleight of hand, so what suspicion there is immediately falls on Gizzy (who points out that identifying it as his sister's in public is not the sort of thing a deep cover double agent would do... or WOULD he?! See Spooks tonight for the definitive answer, folks!).
With that sorted out, Robin announces his new plan: seize control of Nottingham Castle and thus the shire of Nottingham until Richard gets into town - thereby defeating Izzy completely and stuffing up PJ's last best hope for a coup de' tart! The Merry Men tell Robin he's dreaming, but Gizzy knows a secret - the increasingly-paranoid Vasey built an emergency escape tunnel into the castle which no one knows about. With this mighty important bit of lore finally established (though in this version of the legend, Little John wasn't one of the blokes who built it), the gang prepare to war. Well, some of them do - a bit. It all screams "trap" and none of them QUITE trust Gizzy to that extent.
Back at Nottingham, Izzy has realized her cunning plan, even if it works, will just make Kate sulk a lot and have a bit of a cry. Her new plan is this:
1: Announce that Alan is pardoned of all charges and rendered a free man
2: Hope this somehow cause the entire destruction of Robin's band of merry men and makes them return the villagers for Izzy to turn into an army
Luckily, Samuel L Jackson adds the proviso of Alan being pardoned "for services rendered to the Sheriff" - so when word reaches the outlaws they all assume Alan has betrayed them (well, being made a free man wouldn't make Alan quit the gang considering all the times he's rejoined of his own free will). The trouble is, of course, that Alan has form for betraying them, and the gang are hardly in the best of moods when the news arrives as Kate has buggered off, meaning that Much wants to abandon the attack to look for her, which causes tensions with Robin and Alan anyway. Alan's only real defense is that he isn't stupid enough to get such a blatant reward and blow his cover... but the problem is that Izzy IS that stupid to ruin her own plan. Much and John believe Alan is a traitor, Gizzy doesn't care, and Tuck is undecided. Robin decides that he cannot take the chance and, to be on the safe side, has Alan tied up. Assuming there is a happy ending, Robin vows to return for Alan and "sort this out" - a promise that manages to be bloodchilling and reassuring at the same time.
The remaining gang split up for what may the last time (and doesn't Gizzy look sad when he gets none of the hugs and handshakes the others exchange). Little John and Tuck will prevent the supply of food, supplies and props from Loxley leaving Nottingham, while the others will sneak into the Castle and attack from behind. Tuck wants to bring the Loxley redshirts with them, but John refuses to endanger innocents. "It's our job to defeat the Sheriff," he tells the monk in his best fuck-with-me-at-your-peril voice, "if it's the LAST thing we EVER DO!"
Not foreshadowy at all then, huh?
Unfortunately - and this is a big unfortunately - Archer has managed to bump into the one town drunk who ALSO knows all about the secret tunnel, used the secret tunnel to enter Izzy's throne room and done her a deal. In return for a vast fortune, he will turn the tunnel into a death trap when Robin and Gizzy inevitably try to use to break into the castle - and Izzy promises all sorts of creepy incestuous rewards should the plan work... before changing her mind and threatening to drown Archer in blood and tear his body apart with rats for his very existence besmirches the name of Izzy's mum. Twigging that his soon-to-be-only-remaining-relative is completely insane, Archer decides to take the money and abandon Nottingham.
Thus, when Robin, Much and Gizzy creep down the tunnel they find themselves sealed into one section. Much isn't very good at being betrayed, trapped and threatened with death in episode twelves as we know, especially when grains of limestone start to flood their cell. Robin has half a plan: hang on to the grille where the limestone is pouring out, buying survival for a few more minutes enough to think up the OTHER half of the plan. The trouble is, only one person can hang on. Gizzy's still feeling suicidal and, despite Robin's protests, Much refuses to take on the burden of survivor guilt and the duo instead use their last breaths to help Robin stay above the tide. Robin struggles to keep hold of Much's hand when his friend goes under... and when he loses grip, Robin starts to freak out worse than ever as the tide engulfs him as well...
Well, how are the others doing? Kate for her part has returned home - a fate so humiliating and shameful even her own mother is horrified. Of course, this could be because Kate now automatically qualifies for the "get out of Loxley free and survive the season finale by hiding in Sunny Doncaster" reward Izzy gave the Tollinger clan, so this is presumably why her mum instantly reveals she was the one who planted lockets and discredited Robin. Kate turns and leaves without a word, which would be very effective if this wasn't what her mum seemed to want all along.
But what about Alan? Well, understandably feeling a bit in a "well fuck the lot of you, you ungrateful bastards" mood, Alan has easily freed his hands and then washed them of the gang. But, as is always the way it seems, Alan barely manages to leave the camp before encountering an armed posse of soldiers which is just what's needed to reaffirm his faith and loyalty to Robin. When the soldiers charge Alan, they discover to their cost that he is NOT IN THE MOOD and goes "Rason Warrior Robot" on their pale asses - but as he runs to save his comrades, a volley of arrows brings him down.
As Robin once threatened in Lardner's Ring, Alan has ended up filled with enough arrows to pass for a large and dying hedgehog - lying at the feet of someone he never expected to see again...
And what of our remaining Merry Men? Well, Tuck and Little John prepare to single-handedly block the road out of Nottingham when Loxley's finest turn up weilding burning torches, inspired to be fistworthy after all. John points out to Tuck that no matter how fired up they are, they are a bunch of malnourished civilians and walking arrow fodder. But Tuck has a cunning plan... well, in comparison to all the other plans on offer... for them all to turn the other cheek, sit down and peacefully bar the path of the convoy. John's "you have got to be fucking kidding me" expression is worth screencapping, it really is. But this John-and-Yoko-shit proves very effective, as the guards and Jackson find themselves creeped out by this passive resistance and reluctant to slaughter the lot of them. Izzy, however, has no such qualms and decides to use a crossbow and kill the sitting ducks before her like some giant-sized Space Invaders game - and she starts with Tuck.
Just then Kate turns up, in a mood I would personally describe as "scary" and begins a truly nasty catfight. I suppose the sight of Izzy repeatedly trying to knee Kate in the groin COULD be a metaphor for her inability to think outside her gender conflicts, or maybe it's just SUPPOSED to look completely ridiculous and pathetic?
But Nottingham Castle is now not only under seige from outside, but from inside as well - all the denizens have finally snapped and, lead by Archer, revolt against the insane bitch who's been making their life a misery. Izzy retreats, but her second-in-command is unnervingly relaxed about the whole thing and strolls off, leaving Izzy to her inevitable doom unless, so he says, she "delivers Guisborne from the tunnel" - which would be difficult enough to do at the best times, assuming she hadn't just drowned him...The problem is that there is yet ANOTHER army converging on Nottingham, brought here by none other than Samuel L Jackson himself. But he's just helping out his old pal, who everyone recognizes only too well...
The crowds turned towards the entrance again: someone else had come into the Hall. The late arrival chuckled darkly. ‘Oh, no,’ said Robin quietly. There stood a spectre of Nemesis, his most implacable antagonist. With a prickling sense of foreboding, Robin stared into the dark eyes he recognized. The man in black with his white hair and grizzly beard seemed almost benign, but Robin knew him as his oldest and most familiar adversary. Suddenly he knew they were all in even greater danger than he had suspected.
'Why Hood,' the Vasey smiled, 'what an unexpected pleasure. Oh, this shall be so much fun!'
NEXT TIME: SOMETHING WORTH FIGHTING FOR - PART TWO!
"We will have a reckonning, but now? I want my town back. DESTROY EVERYTHING!"
Yep, it's The Parting of the Ways, Robin Hood-style as the surviving Merry Men prepare to defend an outpost against an unstoppable army with a bunch of unreliable civilians as their only asset. Does Izzy have one last trick up her sleeve? Is this Greek Fire I see before me? Where has Prince John got to? Will You Know Who reclaim his castle or see it burn first? And will ANYONE get out of this alive? Don't hold your breath...